The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) has released its 2020 Solar “Makers” and “Brakers” list highlighting some of the most impactful policies affecting rooftop solar growth across the South.
The 2020 Solar Makers include states, regulators and utilities taking action to encourage rooftop solar. This year’s Solar Brakers shed light on utility policies that SELC said undermine rooftop solar as a cost-effective choice.
Currently the Southeast has over 12 GW of solar installed, and more 14.5 GW installed or committed. When SELC launched its Rates of Solar initiative in 2018, around 25,000 homes and businesses in a six-state region had rooftop solar. Two years later, that total has more than doubled.
2020 Solar Makers
Significant State-Level Progress: Virginia legislation expands net metering and access to financing
SELC said this is the second year in a row that Virginia has been one of its Solar Makers because of groundbreaking clean energy legislation. The Virginia Clean Economy Act expands net metering, making rooftop solar more economical for a greater number of Virginians. A portion of this expanded capacity is set aside for lower income Virginians, helping to broaden access to the bill-savings and other benefits of solar. The legislation also makes rooftop solar more affordable by ensuring that Virginians who earn a lower income can avoid high upfront costs by financing their solar installations. In addition, Virginia passed legislation establishing new shared solar programs, including programs for residents living in multi-family housing. Details of the new programs aren’t yet final, but SELC said they have the potential to further increase access to solar.
Planning for the Future: Duke Energy in South Carolina creates a long-term plan for rooftop solar
Net metering has encouraged the adoption of solar power in South Carolina – from less than 500 rooftops in 2014 to more than 20,000 today. Building on this, Duke Energy recently announced an agreement with conservation groups, solar advocates and solar industry members to evolve the state’s net metering policies while also continuing to encourage investments in rooftop solar over the next 10 years. The agreement pairs rooftop solar with smart thermostats and dynamic pricing to encourage customers to conserve electricity during peak demand while compensating more for solar production during those same times. Customers who install rooftop solar may also be eligible to receive an upfront incentive for agreeing to a new solar plus smart thermostat program. The program is expected to expand to solar plus storage opportunities in future years, and Duke Energy has committed to exploring a version of the program for customers earning a lower income. The new arrangement must be approved by the South Carolina Public Service Commission and is expected to be proposed in North Carolina at a later date.
Shift to Fair Monthly Netting: Georgia Power customers can use homegrown solar to offset energy purchases
The Georgia Public Service Commission directed Georgia Power to change how rooftop solar customers are credited for clean energy their systems provide to the grid. Under the new monthly netting policy, customers can use 100% of their homegrown solar energy to offset their energy usage over the course of a month. SELC said the change will make solar more affordable than it had been under Georgia Power’s previous policy that did not allow for monthly netting. This improved policy is only available to 5,000 Georgia Power solar customers (or 32 MW of new rooftop capacity, whichever comes first), a fraction of the utility’s more than 2 million customers.
2020 Solar Brakers
Plummeting Pay Backs + Punitive Fees: TVA’s rooftop policies go from bad to worse
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is a Solar Braker for the third consecutive year, according to SELC. Across TVA’s territory, residents who invest in rooftop solar receive “rock-bottom rates” for excess energy. The rates can change every month, giving homeowners no certainty about the credits they’ll receive for clean energy provided to the utility. SELC said that TVA approved this year a policy that allows retail utilities in their territory to put rooftop solar customers into a separate rate class. This opens the door for utilities to impose monthly fees on solar customers that are higher than existing monthly fees imposed on non-solar residential customers. SELC said it will watch to see whether local power companies take action on TVA’s new policy and start imposing discriminatory rates on rooftop solar customers in 2021.
Steep Monthly Fees: Alabama Power increases its already sky-high solar penalties
SELC said that Alabama Power makes its of Solar Brakers for a third time. As the largest utility in the state, Alabama Power imposes “sky-high” monthly fees on rooftop solar customers. In 2020, Alabama Power increased its fees for solar customers, making it even less affordable for Alabamians to go solar, SELC said. “In light of these additional roadblocks, it’s no surprise that Alabama has far fewer rooftop solar customers than any other Southern state,” SELC said.
Stopping Customers from Using Homegrown Energy: North Carolina municipal utilities force solar sales
In North Carolina, more than 15 city-owned electric utilities continue to impose what SELC said are “punitive policies” requiring rooftop solar owners to sell 100% of their homegrown electricity at low wholesale rates and buy back electricity at higher retail rates. “It’s simply not fair to stop residents from using the clean energy that their solar panels produce,” SELC said.
In other news from SELC, Brenda Mallory, Director of Regulatory Policy, was tapped to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She will be the principal environmental policy advisor to President-elect Biden and charged with coordinating environmental policy across the federal government. Mallory has more than 35 years of experience in environmental law and policy, and previously served as General Counsel of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She held multiple leadership positions during her 14-year career at the Environmental Protection Agency. After serving as Executive Director for the Conservation Litigation Project, she joined SELC to lead its regulatory policy work at the federal and state levels.
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